Security Concerns Postpone Drag Queen Story Hour

Event planned for Lafayette (LA) Public Library will not go on as scheduled.

Protests seem to be just part of the process when it comes to Drag Queen Story Hour programming at libraries and bookstores around the country. Typically, the objections and subsequent attention result in vocal support and larger attendance for the program, and sometimes a small group of protestors outside the building.

In the case of Lafayette (LA) Parish Library, however, the planned Oct. 6 event had to be postponed.

Scheduled to be held at South Louisiana Community College (SLCC) because of high interest, threats from protestors vowing to show up, combined with the number of expected attendees, led to a safety concern that couldn’t be overcome.

“Based upon the information provided by law enforcement, the ongoing and increasing concerns regarding safety and security, and the limited capacity of the College to manage a potential event of this magnitude, the Drag Queen Storytime event cannot move forward at SLCC,” the college said in a statement .

Drag Queen Story Hour at Posman Books in Atlanta. (Photo: DQHS Instagram @dragqueenstoryhour)
 

The library made the announcement on its website two days before the event was supposed to take place, but emphasized that it was not a cancellation, just a temporary loss of venue.

“The library was notified today by SLCC representatives that they can no longer host the Drag Queen Story Time program due to ongoing and increasing concerns regarding safety and security,” it read. “With the loss of the host site, the library is forced to postpone the program until a new venue can be secured. While this is a temporary setback, the Lafayette Public Library confirms that it is not permanently cancelling the program. The library administration and its Board of Control firmly believe in carrying out its mission to serve a diverse community. In addition, many families have stood in support of this program which promotes respect and inclusiveness.”

The uptick in protests, and their volume and vitriol, led DQSH to take to social media recently for more than its typical posting of pictures from events. In an Instagram post,  the organization documented some recent attempts to silence the events and readers, vowed to fight back, and started a fundraising campaign to have the resources to counter the attacks. The post also reiterated a commitment to literacy, kindness, and freedom of speech.

“We believe that reading is indeed fundamental, and while DQSH may not be for everyone, we’re committed to standing up against hate and censorship one library at a time.”

In Lafayette, things escalated more than in other locations. The planned event divided the community and city and library leadership, resulting in the library board president’s resignation, a resolution against the program from the mayor, and a lawsuit from two religious groups.

Programming by DQSH—an organization founded by author Michelle Tea and San Francisco–based RADAR Productions—varies from library to library. During the events, drag queens read books with messages of kindness and inclusivity, such as Rainbow FishI and Strictly No Elephants. They also sing, dance, and do crafts with kids ages three to eight in a way that “captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models,” according to the DQSH website.

In August, LPL announced a DQSH event that would feature University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL) students—members of the UL chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, an international fraternity for gay, bisexual, transgender, and progressive men—reading to children.

At an August 21 Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting, dozens spoke in favor of the event, but Lafayette mayor-president Joel Robideaux called for its cancellation.

LPL director Teresa Elberson spoke out in favor of DQSH, describing it as “a great, fun, program.” Although she acknowledged that it was different from the library’s usual offerings, she noted that she intended to abide by the Library Bill of Rights and would not cancel the event. “I hope to have an open dialog,” she added. “There was never meant to be anything but that.”

Board of Control president Joseph Gordon-Wiltz submitted a letter of resignation on August 27. His reason for resigning, he said in a press statement, was that as an appointee of Robideaux’s, “I should be his mouthpiece on this matter, but I don’t want to give the impression that I completely endorse everything he said.” Gordon-Wiltz did not state which side of the issue he favored; his term would have been up in October. Robideaux replaced Gordon-Wiltz with Hilda Edmond, an employee in Lafayette’s public works department.

At a September 17 Lafayette Library Board of Control meeting, Elberson read letters of support from the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Urban Libraries Council, but opponents outnumbered supporters. A city-parish council meeting on September 18 was also packed with protesters; according to the council clerk, nearly 80 percent of the 400 in attendance were opposed to DQSH. A resolution sponsored by two council members read, in part, “The Lafayette City-Parish Council maintains that the Lafayette Public Library’s Drag Queen Story Time event for children, ages 3–6, is not an age-appropriate educational program.” Two petitions in favor of the resolution were circulated at the five-hour meeting, one local and one national, with a total of 18,000 signatures. Signers included five state legislators from Lafayette’s Acadiana region and 51 local pastors. However, only three of the nine council members voted in favor of the resolution. The remaining six abstained, so the resolution did not pass.

Two religious groups, “Warriors for Christ” and “Special Forces of Liberty,” filed a lawsuit against LPL claiming that the event violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause because it furthers secular humanism, according to local news outlet KADN.

Now it is postponed, with both DQSH and LPL vowing this is not the last word on the event.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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